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Chiral control of quantum states in non-Hermitian spin–orbit-coupled fermions

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Spin–orbit coupling is an essential mechanism underlying quantum phenomena such as the spin Hall effect and topological insulators1. It has been widely studied in well-isolated Hermitian systems, but much less is known about the role dissipation plays in spin–orbit-coupled systems2. Here we implement dissipative spin–orbit-coupled bands filled with ultracold fermions, and observe parity-time symmetry breaking as a result of the competition between the spin–orbit coupling and dissipation. Tunable dissipation, introduced by state-selective atom loss, enables us to tune the energy gap and close it at the critical dissipation value, the so-called exceptional point3. In the vicinity of the critical point, the state evolution exhibits a chiral response, which enables us to tune the spin–orbit coupling and dissipation dynamically, revealing topologically robust chiral spin transfer when the quantum state encircles the exceptional point. This demonstrates that we can explore non-Hermitian topological states with spin–orbit coupling.

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Fig. 1: Non-Hermitian spin–orbit-coupled system of ultracold atoms.
Fig. 2: Momentum-resolved Rabi spectroscopy for observing band merging.
Fig. 3: \({{{\mathcal{PT}}}}\) symmetry-breaking transition and band closing at the EP.
Fig. 4: Topological chiral spin transfer by dynamically encircling an EP.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this work are available from the corresponding authors upon reasonable request.

Change history

  • 28 January 2022

    In the version of the Supplementary Information originally published, there was a typo in the caption to Figure S1. The error has been amended and the Supplementary Information now replaced.


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G.-B.J. acknowledges support from the RGC and the Croucher Foundation through grants nos. 16305317, 16304918, 16306119, 16302420, C 6005-17G and N-HKUST601/17. G.-B.J is further supported by the Harilela foundation. J.L. acknowledges support from the RGC through grants nos. 16304520 and C6013-18G.

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Z.R., E.Z., C.H. and K.K.P. carried out the experiment and data analysis and helped with numerical calculations. D.L. performed theoretical calculations. G.-B.J. and J.L. and supervised the research.

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Correspondence to Jensen Li or Gyu-Boong Jo.

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Nature Physics thanks Wei Yi and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary Figs. 1–6 and Discussion.

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Ren, Z., Liu, D., Zhao, E. et al. Chiral control of quantum states in non-Hermitian spin–orbit-coupled fermions. Nat. Phys. 18, 385–389 (2022).

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